“External specialists bridge internal knowledge gaps within a company”
VC Magazine: Attracting qualified specialists is becoming increasingly difficult for companies. How can a company find good-quality employees in spite of the increasing skills shortage?
Burghardt: The theme of employer branding is becoming ever more important when it comes to the recruitment of young talent. Nowadays graduates from some disciplines – SMET subjects for example – have a choice between four or five different jobs. Young employees are no longer choosing their employer solely on the basis of monetary considerations either. Loyalty is continues to decrease in the face of digitisation. Work must be meaningful and bear significance for employees.
The essential question “What do we stand for as a company?” is thus becoming ever more important.
VC Magazine: What makes a good employer in your opinion? How can companies retain the right employees?
Burghardt: Keeping good employees is only possible if they identify with the company. Flat hierarchies and informal, transparent peer-to-peer communication are crucial in a digital world of work. Communication platforms which enable fluid communication are an example of something which helps considerably in implementing this. The role of superiors needs to change too; managers must learn to hand over control. Specialist leadership is no longer the key, now the duty of a manger is more a question of how to create the right conditions for participation. This is often not possible with the existing team, in which case there is a need to bring in external people. That is why companies should focus not only on their own workforce, but build up a talent cloud. The talent cloud will ideally consist of external specialists that can support projects on a temporary basis and contribute to the transfer of know-how to the in-house workforce. Entrepreneurs are often not aware of the expertise existing within the the organisation as a whole. A skills matrix can help here, mapping out which skills are available in-house and the areas in which external skills are required.
VC Magazine: What are the experiences of medium-sized companies with the use of interim managers?
Burghardt: It would only be a half-truth if I were to ignore that there are still inhibitions when it comes to the temporary employment of managers. A drain of knowledge, uncertainty with regard to their capability and misconceptions about costs are the most commonly cited arguments here. In this case I can only advise companies to seek dialogue with interim experts. I have often seen absences due to illness lead to these inhibitions being eliminated out of necessity. Conviction has turned some of these clients into regular customers because they have learned to appreciate the strengths of the experts enlisted.
VC Magazine: Interim management is an alternative if there are no suitable managers or division heads available for the company. What are the advantages of a “temporary manager”?
Burghardt: The key advantage has to be speed. An appropriate employee that fits the skills profile required can usually be found for the company within the space of a few days. No drawn-out initiations are necessary, the external manager can start immediately and – this is the third greatest advantage – the interim manager can deliver results quickly. There’s no time-consuming on-boarding process, the manager is assigned his or her task and gets going. Interim managers are used to jumping in at the deep-end. The strengths of an external manager lie in forming effective and productive teams, establishing a feedback culture and delivering results as quickly as possible.
VC Magazine: Are there interim managers who are prepared to switch to a fixed position or even those who, if need be, would join a company as a successor?
Burghardt: We asked interim managers in a survey whether a fixed position would be an option for them. 70 % said no. 30 % said that they would not completely rule it out. Being an interim manager is a life and work philosophy. Most managers are over 50, have made their careers and have nothing left to prove. Instead they would rather produce results and added value, pass on their knowledge, set things in motion and contribute to development. Interim managers are very independent– and independent experts are worth a lot. They address things in the company that a manager in a fixed position might not express so clearly.
VC Magazine: Digitisation is right at the top of the list of priorities for many companies. To what extent can new employees or external managers assist en route to a digital future?
Burghardt: According to a study by the University of Oxford, 38% of our jobs will no longer exist in another five years. Digitisation is seeing the rapid emergence of new issues and challenges for companies. Digitisation goes hand in hand with disruption and transformation. This rarely works with in-house materials and available resources because initiating change on the basis of existing structures is always difficult. There is a need for a “bridge-builder” or, to exaggerate, somebody who links the old word with the new and interprets the requirements. In the age of digitisation, further training and the ability to learn are key factors, since the half-life of our knowledge is decreasing faster and faster. In order to keep pace, companies must enlist experts and specialists from outside who can bridge the internal knowledge gaps present in every company. On the one hand they fit the requirement profile perfectly and, on the other, they can give existing employees practical training, coaching and transfer their knowledge to them.
VC Magazine: Thank you for the interview, Ms Burghardt!
Yurda Burghardt is the CEO of Kerkhoff Experts GmbH in Düsseldorf. As part of the Kerkhoff Group, Kerkhoff Experts procure reinforcement in specialist and management positions for temporary posts as well as fixed positions.